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By: Chris Schmidt

Euromonitor International consumer health analyst Chris Schmidt recently attended the Global Food Forums’ 2014 Protein Trends and Technology Seminar in Arlington Heights, Illinois. The seminar offered a holistic view of the rise of protein as the functional ingredient of the day, as well as more technical insight into regulation and formulation. Given its broad coverage of topics, the seminar was an excellent source of information on the future opportunities and challenges facing protein products, including consumer education, new sources of protein and the difficulties of formulating food products across borders.

Broad Recognition and Shallow Understanding

One of the most important takeaways from the conference was the growing ubiquity of protein claims in the food and supplement universe. After several years of traversing claims such as “added protein” and “naturally high-in-protein”, consumers have become very familiar with protein as a functional ingredient. However, their understanding beyond its muscle health claims and generic health and wellness positioning remains superficial at best. According to surveys presented at the seminar, an overwhelming majority of US grocery shoppers believe protein is an important nutrient and that is equally important to consume the proper amount of protein. However, less than one-third of those consumers could actually recall the US Food and Drug Administration’s recommended daily intake.

Investments in further consumer education could offer a number of benefits. For branded producers, encroachment by low-cost branded and private label competition is increasing price competition in a category that previously offered healthy margins. General health and muscle health claims are not expected to offer the kind of premium pricing support they have previously. By highlighting protein’s role as a bone health, heart health and aging support ingredient, producers will be able to appeal to developing consumer concerns and need states, which will enable greater product differentiation in an increasingly cluttered marketplace, which is essential to premium pricing.

Milk is King, but New Challengers are Emerging

One of the focuses of the seminar was the development of non-milk protein sources. Beyond soy, which has long been a heavyweight in the added protein health & wellness packaged food and beverage categories, new plant-based sources are gaining steam. Ingredients like pea, rice, hemp and potato are drawing investment and establishing themselves as “greener” alternatives to the existing category stalwarts. These ingredients’ “green” ethos centres on both health and environmental concerns. Pea, rice, hemp and potato are all much easier to source as organic and non-genetically modified organism (GMO) than other plant sources like soy or corn are not members of the Big 8 allergens (milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat and soybean) in the US. As plant sources, they also require substantially less energy input to produce compared to animal sources, which allows products to highlight their relatively low carbon footprints, a growing area of concern for many consumers. However, as these protein sources are less common, they face much greater production related price volatility. The inability to keep up with booming demand from sources that account for less than 1% of global protein production can lead to supply shocks and unfulfilled orders. For the least-developed sources there is also the concern of making markets for the non-protein by-products, such as the left-over fats, fibres and starches. Without reasonable clearing prices for all by-products, protein isolation can prove prohibitively expensive.

The Challenges are Plenty, but Optimism Outshines Concern

While issues surrounding sourcing, sometimes fickle consumer interest and the myriad food additive regulations around the world generate plenty of concern, producers remain staunchly optimistic about the future of added- and high-in-protein goods. According to Euromonitor International’s latest consumer health data, sports nutrition protein products, protein supplements in vitamins and dietary supplements and weight management meal replacement slimming sales are expected to grow by healthy 41% to US$23.6 billion. Combine that growth with the nearly daily launches of new protein-fortified health and wellness food and beverage products, and the future for protein looks brighter than ever.

Learn more about Global Food Forums here: www.globalfoodforums.com/2014-protein-seminar

 

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